Posts tagged ‘Peace Corps’

Other Views on Teach for America

Since I have posted positively about Teach for America, it is only fair I post this article from the Atlantic of a Teach for America alum who felt she was unprepared for what she faced in the classroom.

Over the years, I have met many TFA teachers and have been in their classrooms, and have never gotten this vibe from them, but perhaps one of our samples (mine or the author's) are flawed**.

I guess my reaction to the article is this:  TFA is the best program I have encountered to try to improve education within the framework of our deeply flawed public education system***.  However, understanding the flaws of public education, and being someone who would much rather see competition introduced into the k-12 education system, I suppose I am not surprised that putting really talented people in a bad system can only do so much.

The education establishment, which is implicitly backed by most of the media, really wants to kill TFA, which just goes to show, perhaps, the impossibility of making change happen within the system.  Think of it this way:  TFA is everything liberals have wanted in teaching reform.  It brings the brightest of the bright from America's colleges and diverts them from Wall Street and Harvard Law to teaching schoolkids.  It is modeled roughly on the Peace Corps.  It is the most establishment-friendly way I can think of to try to make public schools better and still the public school system immune system rejects it.  If TFA cannot work, then we should take that as proof that it is time for a radically new system that eliminates the government monopoly on education.


** I confess it may be my sample.  When we pay to sponsor a teacher, we specify that we will only sponsor one in a charter school.  Consistent with my comments in the rest of the article, I despair of throwing even really good people into typical public schools, and want to send them where they might have a chance.  The school where we have sponsored a teacher the last couple of years is doing great, with a population of kids nearly 100% eligible for the Federal school lunch program and most of whose parents do not speak English as a first language (or at all) significantly outperforming their peers.

*** I also think it is a great program for the young adults in it.  I have seen many of the not-for-profit and NGO jobs smart kids go into out of college, and they are awful.  They teach bad organizational lessons that will make these folks less employable in the future by productive enterprises and they at best do nothing (at worst spend their time lobbying to make my life harder and more expensive).  Against this backdrop, it is a much better experience for folks who want a service type of job out of college - the life skills taught are more relevant and the work has a higher impact.

Previewing the President's College Rankings

Today, President Obama sort-of kind-of acknowledged a problem with Federal college student lending:  Federal loans are doing nothing to improve the affordability of colleges, as colleges are just raising tuition in lockstep with increased lending, thus leaving students massively in debt for the same old degree.

His proposed solution is to somehow tie the availability of Federal funds to some type of government scoring system for colleges.  The probability that this will do anything to reign in student debt is exactly zero.  But it will potentially give the Feds another vehicle for control (similar to what Title IX has given them) of even the most mundane university policies.  Why not, for example, give high scores to universities with the restrictive and politically correct speech codes this Administration favors, thus effectively denying money to students of universities that don't have Eric Holder-sanctioned speech policies?

If you think I am exaggerating, look at the recent Washington Monthly college rankings as a prototype for the Obama scoring system.  In their system, colleges are ranked higher if they have a higher percentage of Peace Corps*** graduates, if more of their Federal work-study grant money is used for jobs at non-profits rather than for-profits**, and if their school reports more community service hours.  This latter points to another issue -- a number of schools rank really low on community service hours, effectively all tied with zero.  This is obviously a reporting issue.  The Obama plan just about guarantees that universities will start to game all these metrics -- does no one pay attention to the fraud that has been found in the law school rankings?

They also have a ranking of the schools providing the best value.  The good news, I suppose, is the school my son attends is #1.  The bad news is that my alma mater Princeton is not even on the list.  I found this odd, because while the authors explicitly laud Amherst's generous program that helps fund students through grants rather than loans, Princeton actually was one of a few schools that did this first (update:  Princeton was the first school to eliminate loans from financial aid packages of low income students, and since has eliminated loans altogether from all financial aid packages.  If you can get in, you can graduate debt-free).

It says this of Amherst:

 It chose to tap its sizable $1.6 billion endowment to provide tuition discounts so generous that the annual net cost to students with family incomes below $75,000 is only $843, less than a third of the sticker price of a year at the average community college. Another elite liberal arts college, Williams, also makes our list. But instructively, none of the other prestigious, well-endowed private colleges and universities in America—not Harvard or Yale, Swarthmore or Smith, none of them—can make that claim.

Actually, we don't know if that last sentence is true because the authors left Harvard and Yale off the list entirely.   My impression is that Princeton makes is very inexpensive for families making less than $75,000 as well, so I could not understand the claim -- perhaps even without debt the tuition charges to low-income families are still unreasonably high.  But we will never know, because apparently Princeton is not even on the list -- not because it does not direct a lot of its endowment to need-based scholarships, but because it has only 10% students on Pell grants, and the authors decided that you could not be on the list unless that number was at least 20% "to make sure they aren’t just catering to the affluent."  This just points to how quickly such a system gets politicized.  What does "catering to the affluent" have anything to do with bang for the buck?  If they really trust their methodology, they would have included these schools and if they are really just over-priced rich kids' playgrounds, that should have come through in the ranking.  Instead, the author's have explicitly invented an unrelated criteria to weed Ivy League schools out, a criteria more related to admissions requirements than to financial aid requirements and affordability and value (the ostensible bases for the rankings).

By the way, if you want to get a really good laugh, this is supposed to be a value or "bang for the buck" ranking, but they only rank the costs.  There is absolutely no ranking of "bang".  Bizarre.  It is as if any degree of any type from any institution is equally valuable.  Which, by the way, is part of the problem in the student loan bubble -- just this assumption.


** This is EXACTLY the kind of incentive that will help pay off those future college loans -- lets make sure to encourage every student to work in non-profits rather than for-profits jobs.

*** Why the Peace Corps?  Why not a myriad of other useful and productive occupations?  If you want to have a service metric, why is Peace Corps there and, say, Teach for America not?

Obama Transition Site Gets Stealth Edit

Last week I quoted from the Obama transition site:

The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation's challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps. Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.

Now, it says this:

Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free.

Ben Smith and others argue that Obama never said it was mandatory.  Fortunately, I got a screen shot of the "require" language before the Obama department of Truth got to the page (click for full size):


Thanks to Walter Olson for bringing the swap to my attention.

Postscript: 100 hours for $4000 is a pretty good deal.  Not many private sector employers offering $40 an hour to recent high school grads.  Everyone out there OK with the government paying the equivalent of $80,000 a year salaries to 18-year-olds for sorting food at the food bank?

Refresher: It seems that some basic definitions are in order.  If one is required to work at a certain task, he is not a volunteer.  If one is paid $4000 for 100 hours of labor, he is not a volunteer.  A volunteer is someone who works of his or her own free will without monetary compensation, solely for the satisfaction of helping out.

Taxing People With No Money

Update:  Over the weekend, without comment, the Obama team pulled down the language below and put up new, vaguer language without the "required."  Discussion and a screen shot of the original is here.

How do you tax people with who have no money?  Why, you take their labor by force.  It worked when we dragged Africans over here against their will in the 19th century, and it can work today.  From the Obama transition site:

The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation's challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps. Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.

So what was that about no tax increase for people making under $250,000?  Because my guess is that most high school and college kids made close to zero, but here is Obama seeking to expropriate 50-100 hours of their labor.  Sure looks like a tax to me.  By law, high school kids, by DOL rules, can work up to 1200 hours per year.  For kid that works every hour she can, this is about a 4% tax.  Kids that work less pay a higher effective tax rate, up to infinite for kids not working at all  (hey, this tax is even regressive).  Also, richer kids trying to get into top colleges will be the least affected, as they are already volunteering at a level close to this, so most of the burden of this tax will fall on the poor.

I remember when I was slammed by Obama supporters during the election when I said that his call for "universal" community service meant that he was going to mandate it.  Carefully avoiding being clearer about what he meant before the election, Obama sure has not wasted any time making sure everyone understands he is talking about government coercion here, not volunteerism.

PS- I thought this site was fake, because it was amazing to me to see Obama's intentions stated so baldly after he so strenuously avoided clarifying his position during the election.  But the Huffpo and other sites link to this site as if it is real, so I will treat it as such.

PPS - Here is Obama's pledge on taxes from the same site:

Middle class families will see their taxes cut "“ and no family making less than $250,000 will see their taxes increase. The typical middle class family will receive well over $1,000 in tax relief under the Obama plan, and will pay tax rates that are 20% lower than they faced under President Reagan. According to the Tax Policy Center, the Obama plan provides three times as much tax relief for middle class families as the McCain plan.

OK, we are not going to take more money, we are just going to take your labor directly.

Update: Radley Balko adds the chilling speech implications of such a program:

So who gets to decide what constitutes "community service"?  Who gets to decide which causes and organizations will be credit-worthy, and which ones won't?

Something tells me that you'd be more likely to get one of Obama's vouchers by going door to door for one of ACORN's living wage campaigns than, say, volunteering for a libertarian nonprofit organization that advocates against things like government-mandated community service.

Obama supporters will say, no problem, we trust Obama.  Hmm.  The folks who wrote our Constitution designed our government assuming all politicians would be knaves.  Writing laws that depend on the good intentions, fairness, correct incentives, and intellectual capacity of the government folks who run it are doomed to failure.  Would Democrats have been happy to have GWB deciding what community service their kids were forced to endure?  I doubt it.  Well, we don't live in an autarky, and sooner or later GWB's party will be back and making exactly those decisions under such a program.

...Or, You Could Choose Your College This Way

Last week, I pointed out that my alma mater Princeton had again topped the USN&WR college rankings.  But those college rankings were for those who wanted to invest their tuition money and four years of their life at the school that would, you know, educate them the best. 

If, however, you would rather choose a college based on how well it serves everyone else's interests rather than your own, you can use this ranking from Washington Monthly, presumably chosen with help from special correspondent Ellsworth Toohey.  Universities are chosen for social contribution and research and number of Peace Corps volunteers and the like.  No indicators of educational quality or student satisfaction are used.  Really, they don't seem to be joking:

U.S. News & World Report publishes its university rankings
every year, and every year people complain about them. So starting in
2005 we decided to do more than just complain, and instead came out
with our own rankings "” based not on reputation or endowment size, but
rather on how much of a contribution each university actually makes to
the country.

Top universities on the list presumably teach important skills like:

  • How to find a job that helps lots of people but doesn't pay very much and provides no job satisfaction
  • How to find a boyfriend who beats you a lot and never can hold a job, but needs your financial support really badly
  • How to invest in companies with no prospects but who need the money very much (taught presumably by Eugene Lawson)

In this list, a Peace Corps volunteer is ranked to have made a larger contribution to America than say:  Jimmy Stewart, Meg Whitman, Jeff Bezos,  James Madison,  etc.  (Oh, and Pete Conrad, probably my personal favorite Princeton Grad, and first man on the moon after Neil Armstrong's dress rehearsal on a Hollywood soundstage with Buzz Aldrin and OJ Simpson.)

This is maybe a great list if you have a billion dollars burning a hole in your pocket and want to find a university to endow, but of what utility is this for prospective students?

Postscript: You do, though, have to give Washington Monthly props for putting Texas A&M at the top of their list, a university whose student body is probably least likely of almost any major state school to purchase very many copies of their magazine  [a comment on their political orientation, not their ability to read].

Update: OK, this is how people REALLY pick schools, from this list.